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Oh ! a little real Christianity were more worth than all that empty profession and discourse, that we think so much of. Hearts receiving the mould and stamp of this rule, these were living copies of the gospel ; ye are our epistle, says the Apostle". We come toyether, and hear, and speak, sometimes of one grace, and sometimes of another; and the most never seek to have their hearts enriched with the possession of any of them. We search not to the bottom the perverseness of our nature, and the guiltiness that is upon us in these things; or we shift off the conviction, and find a way to forget it, when the hour is done.
That accursed root, self-love, that makes man an enemy to God, and men enemies and devourers one of another, who sets to the discovery and the displanting of it? Who bends the force of holy endeavours and prayer, supplicating the hand of God for the plucking of it up? Some natures are quieter and make less noise, but till the heart be possessed with the love of God, it shall never truly love either men, in that way due to all, or the children of God in their peculiar relation.
Among yourselves, &c.] That is here the point, the peculiar love of the saints as thy brethren, glorying and rejoicing in the same Father; as the sons of God, begotten again to that lively hope of glory. Now these, as they owe a bountiful disposition to all, are mutually to love one another as brethren.
Thou, that hatest and reproachest the godly, and the more they study to walk as the children of their holy Father, hatest them the more, and art glad to find a spot on them to point at, or wilt dash mire on them where thou findest none; know that thou art in this the enemy of God; know that the indignity done to them, Jesus Christ will take as done to himself; truly we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren : He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. So then renounce this word, or else believe that thou art yet far h 2 Cor. iii, 2.
i i John iii. 4,
from the life of Christ, that so hatest it in others. Oh! but they are a number of hypocrites, wilt thou say. If they be so, this declares so much the more thy extreme hatred of holiness, that canst not endure so much as the picture of it; canst not see any thing like it, but thou must let fly at it.
And this argues thy deep hatred of God. Holiness, in a Christian, is the image of God, and the hypocrite, in the resemblance of it, is the image of a Christian ; so thou hatest the very image of the image of God; for, deceive not thyself, it is not the latent evil in hypocricy, but the apparent good in it, that thou hatest. The profane man thinks himself a great zealot against hypocricy, he is still exclaiming against it; but it is only this he is angry at, that all should not be ungodly; wicked enemies of religion, as he is; either dissolute, or merely civil; and the civil man is frequently the bitterest enemy of all strictness beyond his own size, as condemning him, and therefore he cries it down, as all of it false and counterfeit wares.
Let me entreat you, if you would not be found fighters against God, let no revilings be heard amongst you, against any who are, or seem to be, followers of holiness. If ye will not reverence it yourselves, yet reverence it in others, at least do not reproach it. It should be your ambition, else why are you willing to be called Christians ? But if you will not pursue holiness, yet persecute it not: If you will not have fervent love to the saints, yet burn not with infernal heat of fervent hatred against them ; for, truly, that is one of the most likely pledges of these flames, and society with damed spirits; as love to the children of God is, of that inheritance and society with them in glory.
You that are brethren, and united by that purest and strongest tie, as you are one in your head, in your life derived from him, in your hopes of glory with him ; seek to be more one in heart; in fervent love one to another in him. Consider the coinbinations and concurrences of the wicked against him and his little flock; and let this provoke you to more united affections. Shall the scales of Leviathan", (as one alludes), stick so close together, and shall not the members of Christ be more one and undivided : you that can resent it, stir up yourselves, to bewail the present divisions and fears of more ; entreat earnestly for that one Spirit to act and work more powerfully in the hearts of his people.
II. We may observe the eminent degree of this love. 1. Its eminency amongst the graces, above all, 2. The high measure of it required, fervent love, [extevõ], a high bent, or strain of it; that which acts strongly, and carries far.
1. It is eminent, that which indeed among Christians preserves all, and knits altogether; therefore called', the bond of perfection, to signify, that all is bound up by it. How can they pray together, advance the name of their God, keep in and stir up all grace in one another, unless they be united in love? How can they have access to God, or fellowship with Him who is love, as St. John speaks, if instead of this sweet temper there be rancour and bitterness among them ? So then, uncharitableness and divisions amongst Christians, do not only hinder their civil good, but their spiritual much more ; and that not. only lucro cessante, (as they speak), interrupting the ways of mutual profiting, but damno emergente, it doth really damage them, and brings them to losses; preys upon their graces, as hot withering winds on herbs and plants. Where the heart entertains either bitter malice, or but uncharitable prejudices, there will be a certain decay of spirituality in the whole. soul.
2. Again, for the degree of this love required, it is not a cold indifferency, a negative love, as I may call it, or not willing of evil ; nor a lukewarm wishing of good, but fervent and active love ; for, if fer.. vent, it will be active, a fire that will not be smothered, but will find a way to extend itself.
III. The fruits of this love follow. 1. Covering of evil, in this verse. 2. Doing of good, ver. 9, &c. k Job xli. 15.
! Col. iii. 14,
For the first of these, it is said, Charity shall cover the multitude of sins. The expression is taken from Solomon; and as covering sins is represented as a main act of love, so love is commended by it, this being a most useful and laudable act of it, that it covers sins, and a multitude of sins.
Solomon saith", as the opposition clears the sense, Hatred stirs strife, aggravates and makes the worst of all, but love covers a multitude of sins; it delights not in undue disclosing of brethrens failings, doth not eye them rigidly, nor expose them willingly to the eyes of others.
Now, this recommends charity, in regard of its continual usefulness and necessity this way, considering human frailty; and that in many things (as St. James speaks) we all offend"; so that this is still needful on all hands. What do they think that are still picking at every appearing infirmity of their brethren; know they not that the frailties that cleave to the saints of God while they are here, do stand in need of, and call for, this mutual office of love, to cover and pass them by ? Who is there that stands not in need of this? If none, why are there any that deny it to others? There can be no society nor entertaining of Christian converse without it; giving (as we speak) allowance; reckoning to meet with defects, and weaknesses on all hands; covering the failings of one another, seeing it is needful from each to another.
Again, as the necessity of this commends it, and the love whence it flows, so there is that laudable ingenuity in it, that should draw us to the liking of it. It is the bent of the basest and most worthless spirits to be busy in the search and discovery of others failings, passing by all that is commendable and imitable ; as base flies readily sitting on any little sore they can find, rather than upon the sound parts. But the more excellent mind of a real Christian loves not unnecessarily to touch, no, nor to look upon them, rather turns away; such never uncover their m Prov. x. 12.
n James iii. 2.
brother's sores, but to cure them; and no more than is necessary for that end; they would willingly have them hid, that neither they nor others might see them.
This bars not the judicial trial of scandalous of. fences, nor the delation of them, and bringing them under due censure. The forbearing of this is not charity, but both iniquity and cruelty; and this cleaves too much to many of us. They that cannot pass the least touch of a wrong done to themselves, can digest twenty high injuries done to God by profane persons about them, and resent it not; and such may be assured, that they are yet destitute of love to God, and of Christian love to their brethren, which springs from it.
The uncovering of sin, necessary to the curing of it, is not only no breach of charity, but is indeed a main point of it, and the neglect of it the highest kind of cruelty. But further than that goes, certainly this rule teaches the veiling of our brethrens infirmities from the eyes of others, and even from our own, that we look not on them with rigour; no, nor without compassion.
1. Love is witty in finding out the fairest construction of things doubtful, and this is a great point. Take me the best action that can be named, pride and malice shall find a way to disgrace it, and put a hard visage upon it. Again, what is not undeniably evil, love will turn to all the ways of viewing it, till it find the best and inost favourable.
2. Where the thing is so plainly a sin, that this way of covering it can have no place, yet then will love consider what may lessen it most; whether a surprise, or strength of temptation, or ignorance, as our Saviour, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they doo, or natural complexion; or at least will still take in human frailty, to turn all the bitterness of passion into sweet compassion. 3. All private reproofs, and where conscience re
o Luke xxiii. 34.